Civilizing the Economy A New Economics of Provision

The Economics of Protection

Posted Mar 26, 2011 by Marvin Brown in Uncategorized, No Comments

One rationale for the military action in Libya was to protect civilians.  Many probably see this as a reasonable humanitarian response, but few would see it as an economic response.   Why not?  What kind of economic framework ignores the human need for protection?  It turns out that this is true of much of mainstream economics, which is certainly one reason we continue to move toward a dismal future.

As I argue in Civilizing the Economy, all human communities must do three things: provide for one another, protect one another, and find social meaning.  Provisions and providers cannot fulfill their functions, I argue, unless they are protected.  Allowing the destruction of providers (people and planet) not only violates the dignity of living things, but also robs future generations of a good life,

Economics, at its core, is about the management (nomics) of the household (oikos), which includes both planetary and human households.  It is about managing living systems, and living systems (people and planet) need protection from exploitation and destruction.

In some ways, we have moved toward an economics of protection.  Social security, collective bargaining, laws against discrimination, low-income housing, food stamps, and other practices all function to protect people. We also have made some progress in protecting the planet. And yet, our economic theory remains largely stuck in an old framework that ignores these policies and practices of protecting others.

A civic economics of provision would allow us to recognize the similarity of a “humanitarian” and an “economic” response.  Instead of seeing them as two opposite motives, we would recognize them as originating from the same human desire: a desire for the security that is necessary for a good life.



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Marvin T. Brown, Ph.D teaches business and organizational ethics at the University of San Francisco and Saybrook University in San Francisco.

This book is the culmination of 30 years of teaching and writing on business and society from a communicative perspective. Visit for more information.

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